Highlights of Egypt: The 5 Cities You Cannot Miss and Why
Egypt is a country that has long attracted history buffs, explorers, and travellers alike. That being said, as incredible as the pyramids in Cairo are, there are so many other iconic sites and cities to explore! I've put together this brief guide so you know exactly which places to include in your itinerary and why they shouldn't be skipped.
Keep reading to know more about the five diverse and inspiring cities that need to be included in your next trip to Egypt.
We'll start with the obvious one because there’s a reason Cairo is world-famous. The bustling capital of Egypt, it is also the largest city in the Middle East and Arab world. It is most known for the Pyramids of Giza, including one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the Great Pyramid of King Khufu. This place is so memorable and iconic that my fiancé actually proposed here. It was, of course, a moment neither of us will ever forget!
Cairo is also known for the Great Sphinx and the ancient city of Memphis.
In addition to witnessing these architectural wonders, Cairo is a great city to learn more about Egypt’s rich history, culture, and art through visiting the Egyptian museum, shopping in the markets, and exploring the diverse religious sites of the city.
It is well worth spending several days in Cairo to thoroughly take in the iconic sites that have lured tourists for so many centuries. I recommend having a guide (preferably one who is also an Egyptologist) to take you around the city. A trip to Egypt is not complete without understanding the country's remarkable history and fascinating culture. Without context, a trip to the pyramids just won't be the same. This stands true for every other site of significance, even museums since many artifacts lack plaques or details with proper explanation. A guide can also help you to navigate the chaos of the city and its transportation.
Tip: While you’re here, be sure to try koshari, the national dish of Egypt. Packed with delicious flavour and carbs, you can try this meal in many establishments across Cairo at a very affordable price.
Located on the Nile River, Aswan is the strategic and commercial gateway to Southern Egypt. It houses the Aswan High Dam which controls the flooding of the Nile and improves navigation along the river, generates power, and serves the irrigation needs of both Egypt and Sudan. But, besides its value with regard to trade and resources, Aswan is also an incredible place to visit.
Far less chaotic than Cairo, Aswan is a beautiful place to peacefully take in the scenery of the Nile and visit significant architectural and educational sites like Philae Temple and the Nubian Museum.
Only a 1.5-hour flight from Cairo, the city is also the perfect gateway to incredible Egyptian experiences you will not want to miss including a ride on a felucca – a traditional wooden sailing boat, a visit to a Nubian village, a Nile cruise to Luxor, and a day trip to the next spot on our list…
Though Abu Simbel can be done as a day trip from Aswan, it deserves its own place in this list. Located several hours by car from Aswan, near the Sudanese border, you will find the Great Temple of Abu Simbel and the Temple of Nefertari. These two temples were originally carved out of the mountainside in the 13th Century B.C. during the reign of Ramesses II.
Ramesses II is often regarded as the greatest and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom. The Great Temple was dedicated to Ramesses II himself, while the smaller temple was dedicated to his chief wife Queen Nefertari.
During an international effort carried out by UNESCO in 1968, the temples were actually relocated into an artificial hill made 65 metres higher and 200 metres back from the river. If the temples had not been moved, they would have become submerged underwater as a result of the rising waters of the Nile from the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
The relocation effort is considered one of the greatest challenges of archeological engineering history.
The carved statues that stand at the entrance of the Great Temple stand 20 metres (66 ft) tall, making for an overwhelming experience as you stand in awe of both the original construction and the relocation effort.
In addition to the history and outside structures of the temples being remarkable, the insides of the temples are also filled with statues and detailed reliefs and hieroglyphics you won’t want to miss.
Luxor was my favourite city in Egypt. As ancient Thebes, the pharaohs' capital at the height of their power, and the religious capital of Egypt, the city is overflowing with rich history and some of the most famous sites and temples in the country.
The city is located on the East Bank of the Nile and is home to the world’s greatest open-air museum, the Karnak Complex. Luxor is also famous for its collection of royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor Temple, and so much more.
I recommend taking a Nile Cruise between Aswan and Luxor which will provide you with stunning views of the Nile and a chance to relax as you sail for three nights and two days on your cruise between the two cities.
Interested in learning more about all the must-see sites in Luxor? Check out my blog post, “Your Ultimate Travel Guide to Luxor Egypt”.
Located approximately 2.5 hours from Cairo, Alexandria is a Mediterranean port city in Egypt. Due to its location on the sea, it’s a beautiful place to walk along the coast and watch the boats around the harbour.
Alexandria is most famous for the Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, that no longer stands and has since been replaced by the Citadel of Qaitbay. It is also known for the Library of Alexandria (the largest library in the ancient world) and the Necropolis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.
When wandering the city and its sites, you’ll likely notice a lot of Greek influence, having been founded by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. This gives the city a totally different vibe from others around Egypt.
Tip: If you’re looking to enjoy a drink, head to “Spitfire”, Alexandria’s oldest bar. Dating back to 1883, this subtly located gem is filled with character and offers a unique opportunity to experience local drinks at an affordable price in a cool and laid-back environment. With layers of posters, postcards, stickers, and other paraphernalia from around the world plastering every surface of the establishment, you’ll find yourself ogling at the many stories being told through its history and centuries of visitors. You’ll have to keep your eyes peeled though because if you blink, you just might miss it!
As I mentioned early on in this post, and in my other Egyptian blog posts, I do highly recommend having an Egyptian guide and Egyptologist take you through these historical sites. In addition to ensuring a more safe and organized experience, there is simply too much history and vital information to risk missing or misunderstanding. I promise that having access to this information and knowledge will add greatly to your experience travelling through Egypt.
Our trip to Egypt was partially supported by G Adventures, a small group travel company focused on changing the world through authentic and sustainable travel. We were able to visit all of these sites and more through their Egypt Upgraded tour.
If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested in reading, “Is Egypt Safe? | What to Consider Before Travelling to Egypt”.
Disclaimer: Our trip to Egypt was partially supported by G Adventures. The content of this blog is generated for entertainment and informative purposes. All views expressed on this site are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.